Combination therapy improves small cell lung cancer survival

From the Winter 2019 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Illustration by istockphoto.com

Patients with stage IV small cell lung cancer lived longer when given the immunotherapy atezolizumab with chemotherapy, setting the stage for what could become the first new treatment approved in decades for this particularly aggressive form of lung cancer.

Results of the study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that patients who got atezolizumab in addition to standard chemotherapy lived two months longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone.

“This is the first positive study for immunotherapy with chemotherapy in small cell lung cancer,” said Leora Horn, MD, MSc, Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research and clinical director of Thoracic Oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

In the randomized trial, 201 patients were given atezolizumab with standard chemotherapy treatment while 202 patients received placebo with chemotherapy.

The median overall survival was 12.3 months in the atezolizumab group and 10.3 months in the placebo group.

“The median survival for a patient with incurable small cell lung cancer is less than one year,” Horn said. “A lot of studies will quote a survival of around nine months in patients with advanced stage disease. This is the first Phase III study where survival is just more than one year for patients treated with combination therapy and immunotherapy in advanced stage disease.”